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Contestable concepts on Iraq: a pro-war view

G'day. There's been a big gap in Webdiary's debate on the Iraq war since the bloke who carried the yes case, John Wojdylo, stopped writing for Webdiary just before the war. I met him for the first time in Perth this year, and he had good reason for dropping out. John is a physicist at the University of Western Australia, and he has discovered a new mathematical formula, now published in an academic journal, which ensures his immortality.

New Webdiarist Stuart Lord takes up the challenge in his first piece for Webdiary. He writes: "I'm a 21 year old history student at Macquarie University. I was born, raised and schooled in Sydney's North Shore, and am currently studying and working part time as an accountant there. I know that the self-styled 'Vegas of the South' is the place to be. In between home, work and study I like to talk about and write various religious and libertarian opinions and listen to my progressive friends get considerably more agitated in the process."

Contestable concepts on Iraq: a pro-war view

by Stuart Lord

Since the invasion during 2003, there have been countless opinion pieces, blogs, journals and reports on Iraq. I have seen quite a few very contestable statements about the legality, nature and morality of the Iraq war, and here are some of my thoughts on them. Just for the record, in no way does this article concern the following – refugees, the personal lives of George W. Bush, Tony Blair or John Howard, refugees, Afghanistan, refugees, Israel and Palestine or refugees.

1. The Iraq War is illegal

This is contestable as an argument against the war. The Security Council resolution 678 (1990) can and was considered ‘revived’ by Iraq's alleged non-compliance with the terms of Security Council resolution 687 in relation to prohibited weapons under sections 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 of that resolution.

This means that due to Iraq’s non compliance with any part of the terms of the armistice signed at the end of the Gulf War, hostilities could be ‘revived’ against Iraq in a manner deemed fit either by the Security Council or by individual nation states under the terms of resolution 687.

There are direct precedents for these situations – the ‘revivals’ of the conflict that took place in 1993 and 1998 by the US and Britain - although those revivals took place on a much smaller scale.

Resolution 1441 defines "false statements or omissions" and "failure to comply fully in the implementation of this resolution" as a "further material breach of Iraq's obligations" (section 4). This is after resolution 1441 has already said that Iraq is already in material breach of resolution 687 in section 1, which was the basis of creating resolution 1441 in the first place.

The term "serious consequences" of not complying with Security Council resolution 1441 can be and was considered to be a trigger for a ‘revival’ of the conflict. These triggers can be likened to double dissolution triggers for the Federal Government – once you have them, you can initiate the consequences, though it is not mandatory to do so immediately. The Hans Blix report on January 27, 2003 stated:

Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance – not even today – of the disarmament, which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.

This serves as a violation of Section 4 in Resolution 1441 regarding cooperation with inspections in Iraq, meaning that Iraq has provided a further material breach. At that point ‘revival’ was possible.

However, I acknowledge that the main item for public consumption given by the Coalition of the Willing regarding broken resolutions was the claim that Iraq WMDs and was building. So far that has proved to be false, and is likely to remain so. But this was almost entirely due to the corruption and, occasionally, the courage of the Iraqi elements in control of producing weapons of mass destruction syphoning resources from projects instead of producing the weapons the Iraqi regime wanted.

And I do acknowledge that substantive links Al-Qaeda has not been publicly proved in any substantial way, though several known terrorists were found in Iraq after the invasion.

It remains true, though, that in a strict legal sense under resolutions 687 (the armistice agreement) and 1441 the Coalition of the Willing was legally justified in invading Iraq.

2. Iraq is an immoral war

This is a tougher concept, due to the fact that morality is so diverse and changing these days it's hard to come up with a concrete answer that everyone will appreciate. However, from my point of view, the Iraq War was a moral war.

Firstly, I believe that Saddam Hussein was an inherently destructive and violent despot who systematically caused his country to be ruined and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people through war or repression. His regime managed to kill off almost any vocal opposition within the country, suppress uprisings with weapons of mass destruction. It also repeatedly tried to renege on its obligations with the armistice it signed after the Gulf War.

Saddam was unstable and paranoid, executing segments of his own party and even his own family during his rule and building palaces he never slept in due to fear of enemy attack. Iraq is a fundamentally better place with his removal.

Secondly, I believe that Iraq lied repeatedly to weapons inspectors and deliberately failed to fulfil its obligations regarding the reporting and destruction of prohibited weapons. The weapons inspections, which were supposed to be verifications for Iraq’s destruction of said prohibited weapons, turned into games of ‘hide and seek’. This dishonesty and disregard for carrying out its obligations acted as another moral impetus for carrying out the war.

Thirdly, I believe that the Coalition of the Willing at no point acted to deliberately target civilians directly in any way during the invasion in 2003. While certain domestic facilities such as power stations, water sources and telephone exchanges were destroyed, and the denial of these resources was detrimental, sometimes severely so, to the Iraqi people, these targets were hit as a legitimate function of denying the enemy resources that could be used to further resistance to the invasion.

While civilians were killed during the bombing and fighting in Iraq, at no point were civilians deliberately targeted. Casualties can be attributed to poor intelligence on the location of selected targets, the location of areas of military significance in close proximity to civilian areas, human error and the vagaries of war.

On a special note, while every effort should be made to minimise and eliminate civilian casualties in every way, this should not radically impinge on the primary goal of the conflict – the elimination of the Iraqi military’s capability to fight. If the possibility of civilian casualties prevented military actions, what is to stop regimes that do not place any care towards their civilian population simply using civilians as shields to prevent legitimate actions being taken against them, or indeed the civilian population of other countries in times of aggression?

I would consider the targeting of the civilian population deliberately and directly a war crime, but the unintended consequences of casualties while carrying out legitimate action against an enemy I would call extremely regrettable but acceptable if honest efforts have been made to minimise casualties.

I do grieve for the estimated 25,000 civilian casualties of the war, just as I grieve for the almost 2,000 Coalition casualties. However, freedom from tyranny, peace and security have a price that must be paid in blood and death.

If we were unwilling to accept these prices, the world would be ruled by those evil enough not to care about any human cost in gaining victory and who would not stop to count the cost but would continue until domination was theirs.

Indeed, I believe that it would be immoral to allow evil to flourish because we were unwilling to accept the prices of fighting for freedom, fighting for democracy and a better future.

Fourthly I believe that since the invasion, the handover of power to the interim government and the recent Iraqi elections ensures that Iraq has the opportunity to proceed in its own direction by the will of the people, rather than the will of a despot and his party mechanisms.

Due to the invasion, Iraq is one of the few countries in the region that have the possibility of becoming a fully functional democracy. And with time and the reduction and eventual removal of foreign forces, it has the opportunity for the people to choose their own destiny, after living for three decades under a dictatorship. This again is a direct consequence of the invasion. To say that this is a bad thing is rather interesting.

Fifthly, there is the argument that we went to Iraq on a lie. This is an extremely important to many people, for understandable reasons. Due to the inability to find weapons of mass destruction and the lack of a finding of links to Al-Qaeda, it seems that the stated reasons we invaded Iraq were wrong.

However, I would like to put the burden of this misinformation not only on intelligence communities but on Iraq itself. Over years of deceiving, misinforming and misleading of weapons inspectors, especially concerning WMD’s and other prohibited weapons, they built up such a reputation that when the Iraqi government called wolf, the rest of the world did not believe them.

Consider this case. Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law and the head of the Iraqi biological weapons program, defected to Jordan in 1995. The defection prompted Iraqi officials to admit that Iraq had weaponised biological agents, and they began to provide information on the program. Before this time, no information about the program had come forth because the Iraqi regime knew that the creation of biological agents were prohibited. This is just one example in a multitude of lies and deceptions that were carried out.

So when the same statements regarding the willingness of Iraq to participate in weapons inspections and that they had removed all weapons of mass destruction emerged just before the Iraq war, was it any surprise that they were not believed?

Overall I find that the war was a moral war, not only because of the intentions going into the war, but in the way the war itself and the post war transitions, along with the great results flowing in most instances. There are always negatives associated with the war itself and the transitional process, but in my opinion it is well outweighed by the opportunity it presents the Iraqi people for peace and progress, democracy and liberty.

And before you think about the negatives, reflect on the nature of Saddam’s regime, think of the consequences of ongoing sanctions regarding Iraq on the people (the only thing the U.N. ever actually did regarding Iraq apart from taking kickbacks from the food for oil scheme), and compare that possible future compared to the one available now.

It may not happen quickly and it may descend into chaos, but the opportunity is there to be free and to make a better life. That opportunity is something that is good. Providing that opportunity is something that is moral.

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